Chewton

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Commissioner's Tent, Forest Creek, Federation University Art Collection.
Diggers Flag of 1853, 2013, From Bendigo Monument in Rosalind Park.

Background

In the first week of July 1851, Victoria separated from New South Wales and became a colony in its own right. In the same week, gold was discovered in the new colony.[1] A few months earlier the news of gold at Forest Creek had emptied Melbourne as men and women joined the gold rush. By December 25,000 were camped at what we now call Chewton in the quest to strike it rich on the rich alluvial gold field.

Attempting to slow the rush of workers to the gold fields, and generate revenue, Governor Charles La Trobe introduced a licence fee of 30 shillings per month for the right to mine for gold, effective from 1 September 1851. Even when enforced, the licence system did little to slow the rush, and by the end of November 1851, diggers were leaving their jobs in cities, towns and on pastoral stations and travelling to the gold fields in their thousands. On 01 December 1851 Governor Charles LaTrobe issued a proclamation which proposed to double the licence fee to £3, effective from 1 January 1852. Shortly after, notices appeared along the Forest Creek diggings urging diggers to meet and object to the proposed increase. During the following days a meeting of up to 3,000 people was held to establish the day and location of the Monster Meeting or the Great Meeting as it was originally known. [2]

On 15 December 1851 a meeting of around 14,000 diggers was held at Forest Creek (Chewton) at the Shepherd's Hut, Forest Creek. Delegates were sent to Melbourne to petition Governor Charles La Trobe. Diggers gathered peacefully under their new flag to protest and demand justice. Speakers spoke passionately of the issues involved: of the right of individuals to create wealth by their own labour, and of the need to unite against an oppressive government. In response 130 troops were sent to Forest Creek (Chewton).

Two days later the government announced that the licence fee increase had been revoked, although Governor La Trobe's decision to revoke the licence fee increase had been made on 13 December 1851, two days prior to the Monster Meeting. The gold licencing system continued to be a point of contention and continued objections led to the Red Ribbon Rebellion in Bendigo in 1853 and ultimately to the Eureka Stockade in Ballarat in 1854.[3]

Quotes from the Monster Meeting

‘To be respected by fellow-man, is a right-minded man’s pride’ - Mr Robert Booley.[4]

‘I defy the world to produce the same honest among the sane number as at Forest Creek’ - Mr Lawrence Potts.[5]

‘…when the Commissioner came around, I should refuse to pay,and he would compel me to go with him. Now, I should propose that if one went, all went.’ - Mr Robert Booley ‘Yes, Yes.’ - The crowd.[6]

‘It was unjust taxation that caused the United States to throw off the burthen, and unless the Government learnt a little wisdom, an additional tax might lead to same result here.’ - Captain George Harrison.[7]

Location

The Monster Meeting Site is located on the northern outskirts of the township of Chewton, in the locality of Golden Point, near the confluence of Forest and Wattle Creeks. It is surrounded by the Castlemaine Diggings National Heritage Park (VHR H2407), but was not part of the Park in 2017. The site itself consists of grassed land across a shallow rise, which falls away towards Forest and Wattle Creeks.[8]

Monster Meeting Re-enactment

A re-enactment of the meeting is held every year at the original site to remember and celebrate the 15 December 1851 Monster Meeting of 15,000 miners protesting Governor Charles La Trobe’s threat to double the miners licence fee from thirty to sixty shillings per month, regardless of whether or not they found gold.

Heritage Registration

In July 2017 the Chewton Monster Meeting Site he Heritage Council determined that the Monster Meeting Site is of cultural heritage significance to the State of Victoria and warrants inclusion in the Victorian Heritage Register.

External Sites

Victorian Heritage Register (H2368)- http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/123107

Monster Meeting Site Report (H2368) - http://vhd.heritagecouncil.vic.gov.au/places/123107/download-report

Also See

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Monuments Project

Ballarat Reform League Inc. Chewton Monument

Chewton Essay

Ann Duke

George Duke

References